Zoë Knight & Mythical Beasts: The Good

If the modern fare of auto-detuned horrification is the cheap internet porn of the day, this Music is transcendent love-making, in the flesh, in the grotto of the baths of Aphrodite.


Album Review

The Varieties of Musical Experience

Ed Broms


Welcome to the Beastiary, in other words, an illustrated treatise on beasts and creatures, with a moral aspect. The debut release, The Good, from Boston-based songstrix, Zoe Knight, and cohort – the foul, fierce and fiery, and “more than” good, Mythical Beasts – Monster players from the local scene – offer up exactly that: a dazzling, illustrious aerostration, a compendium of musical titans, and a message eternally appropriate for the ever unchanging change of our time. This is a fellowship forged in devotion and discipline to the arts of the goddess, Meret or Saraswati. Pull up a chair, take a heavy draw on the pipe, and let me relate to you an epic tale.

A two-tailed, duodecahedron-headed Hydra of a double album, with 6 original songs each, from the fountain of Zoe Knight’s prodigious outpouring, The Good takes you on an Orphean netherworld journey to the streets, the tavern, the dens, Beowulf’s lair, the royal palace, the bedchamber, and beyond. The rewards are great for the fearless and inimitable listener, who does not pale from the task of forging into the dark night of the Soul and The Funk.

From the first strides of the first two much-past radio-friendly booted tunes, THE GOOD and MY HEART BEATS FOR YOU (most of the tunes hourglass-in at a liberal 5-9 minutes), you realize you are in the deep midnight bluesy end of the swamp, and will need to gird your ears for the carriage-ride across.  The most striking feature, right away, is that Zoe is an artist who luxuriates in the music, and in every color of every note of her myriad vocal palette. Everything here evolves at its own pace, in its own Dreamtime. The melodies linger, the forms transfigure, the jams stretch (but still are just a menu for the live show), the individual notes are drawn out like draughts from a love elixir of distant memories – so long you can roll them around in your cortex and on your tongue before the final ingestion. The band lavishes over every shade, riff, and groove. The music is built for musicians and allows them to PLAY, to explore, to do battle, to settle in.  Likewise, the apprentice can steep in the pot, at the back of the sorcerer’s smoky tower with a refreshing pint, and drink deep for a long winter’s night; or frolic with timeless abandoned ecstasy on the dance floor. By the middle of the first album, with tunes aptly named I CAN’T HELP IT and LONG WINTER, you know you are in for the path not taken, the extended view, and send for your slippers, the most comfortable silk and velvet robes, and the top shelf brandy, to sip by the fire, reclining on plush magic carpets. It is here that you are given the invitation LOVE COME LOVE ME, the requisite and indispensable shuffle that arrives in the nick of time to provide that narrow escape from certain death; and guide you safely through the labyrinth.

And for bravery you are rewarded with this revelation:

If the modern fare of auto-detuned horrification is the cheap internet porn of the day, this Music is transcendent love-making, in the flesh, in the grotto of the baths of Aphrodite.

And now Zoe’s charms and enchantments are at full gale, from the serpentine, strong bottom range drawn from Coltrane’s Mystical Horn, to the most ascendant ethereal whisperings of Seraphic Fire. Then, in the midst of the intoxication, and not before then, comes the Mastery, descending from the vaulted starlit skies and torchlit caverns, the drawing down of the Moon: sounds you’ve never heard before and will only hear from Zoe Knight – an outlier vocalist and artist dripping dew – Rorate Caeli – from the expansive firmament that caresses your ears like sonic lambskin for your own personal delights.

Once you find your bearings though, and awaken somewhat from the stupor, it dawns on you that, befuddled, you have fallen headlong into the Dragon’s hoard, or perhaps tumbled embarrassed into the Queen’s throne room, bejeweled with glinting Minor Pentatonix, gilded with the Golden 8ths of Swing. The first album ends in the inner sanctum of the divine mystery with ELEMENTAL, the Groove/Manta: Air my Breath, and Fire my Spirit, Earth my Body, Water my Blood. It features one of the many stand-out solos, this one on Flute.

The second album continues our Heroine’s Journey from the nadir of the Underworld, back to the Light of day.  It begins with Truth revealed in EQUALITY FOR ALL, a reggae rocker with all the trappings of “bombs” dropping from the drums; then continues like an archetypal Love Affair, Tristan and Isolde. With the sparks of love flying in getting to know you BETTER, the instigation to MAKE YOUR MOVE, and the relishing in SWEETNESS, HONEY, the pass through is made from the hall to the sleep chambers.  In the morning rays, we’re roused from a gentle drowse with the scintillating ballad, COME HERE MY DARLING LOVER– the crown jewel you hadn’t realized until now was missing from the adventure.  The drapes of the long strange trip are drawn to a close with the satisfying epilogue THAT’S OKAY; all is revealed, all is forgiven: I love you anyway.

What moral do we draw from this fairy tale and phantasmagoria? In a dual universe of Good and Evil, it is the Alchemist’s and the Pilgrim’s work to always, ALWAYS choose The Good.  Zoe Knight and Mythical Beasts have served this Boar’s Head up on a silver platter. Now go and get yourself some.

EAB June 2020, Boston, MA.

Jon Davis Piano Duo, Mezzrow, 22 JUNE 2019, NYC

Jon Davis Piano Duo at Mezzrow, with Bassist Ed Howard

Saturday, 22 June 2019, 1030PM Set

When being at the top of your game means heading to the basement.

SHE (my wife Lorna) took me out for my birthday on a recent Saturday.  The plan was to walk from East 14th Street across town at 16th near sunset to catch the Manhattan-henge Solstice (a Holy Day for me) effect, have dinner at Buddakan (of Sex in the City fame), then wander down to Smalls for some small club basement Jazz, impromptu-like with no tickets or any idea who was even playing.  The setting Sun was spectacular, as were the SMOKE cocktails and Pork Buns, along with Short Rib and Scallion Pancakes!

We made it down to Smalls at West 10th close to 1030PM, in time to make the next set, whatever it was, but only to find a prohibitively (and predictably) large crowd in line to descend from the street into the basement jazz room.  Not being attached to our loose plan we immediately turned to find alternative means of entertainment, but before we were able, the earnestly concerned but smiling fans in line told us to go across the street to Mezzrow.  I’d heard of it and seen listings here and there but had never been, so what could be better. Off we went.

Mezzrow is a similar establishment, if less established and more off the cuff, run by the same owners as Smalls, presumably as an overflow space; and for more of a good thing.  Without any ostentation at the door and just a simple sign to mark the spot, we descended a nondescript set of stairs, passed a work permit for a small Korean restaurant being built right next door, into the basement of Mezzrow.  And a basement it was, pretty literally: pipes and cabling running roughshod over the ceilings, a small host area, followed barrel-house fashion by a small bar into a ‘formal’ sitting area with the customary few small tables and chairs all congested together, and finally the “stage” with the center-piece Steinway, the upright ready to be picked up and played, and the house drum-set in shambles in the corner. This was capped off with the usual illusory space-expanding mirrors, and all wrapped up in a bow of about 6 different wall treatments suitable for a teenage pot den, with the standout being the obligatory 60s wood paneling sections.  After the “this can’t possibly be up to code” gander around the space and noting the small single door with an exit sign, we sat down as the host had indicated: sitting next to each other.  However, there was an immediate repositioning of seats to accommodate a party of 4 men – seemed like music industry types. The good news being of course that there was plenty of room, although the room did fill up by set time, and we were right up front with perfect views of piano hand and bass finger-board.

The waitress, a ginger, perhaps from the British Isles, was an obviously exuberant jazz aficionado, which I parsed from overheard conversation. I got the delightful impression this was her dream job.  Our plan called for whiskey, but after taking more than a moment with the menu, the only waitress nicely explained with a smile that she was at our service and didn’t have much to do.  She said this so nicely and without sarcasm that I couldn’t tell if it was snide or not.  We decided it wasn’t, and the service was perfect throughout.  We settled on a round of intense Cardamom Bourdon followed by Basil Hayden.  These did not disappoint.

The host came up to address the audience and to explain that this was a listening room, to keep noise to a minimum, and refrain from talking.  This the audience mostly did, which was great.  Although the bass was amped, and they ran a vocal mic through this amp as well for announcements and banter, the piano was not amplified, so a talking room would have killed the listening.  It reminded me a bit of an extraordinary experience I had in a tiny pub near the desolation of the Burren in western Ireland, run by a single grandmotherly/drill sergeant woman behind the bar.  The pub was wall to wall people drinking, talking, and partying at full tilt.  The artist was a single performer with a tenor guitar and vocals, neither amplified very much.  At EVERY ballad would come a huge SHUUUSH! from the bar keep and remarkably, the entire place would be magically and absolutely hushed for the duration.  Only after a respectable time into the next fast number would the revelry recommence.

So, you never know what genius you will stumble onto in a small basement venue in NYC, unplanned, and unsought out, but I suppose it should be expected and not surprising.  It was a delightful surprise in this case to discover and hear pianist Jon Davis for the first time, whose career highlights include recording with bassist Jaco Pastorious, and stints with just about everyone else.  Being a fan of Jaco, especially the big band recordings, and having studied and played with Rakalam Bob Moses, who recorded the brilliant Bright Size Life album with Jaco and Metheny, I felt right at home immediately.

Jon came out early to shuffle through some loose-leaf charts, that were even more loosely organized, with incredibly fidgety fingers, to fish out charts here and there for the Bassist, Ed Howard, who had now joined him on stage.  No drums. 

No drums needed.  The music did not disappoint in the slightest and rather rose to the occasion of an exulted experience of hearing musicians at the height of super powers, polished with constant gigging for decades.  The rhythmic cohesion of the duo in the face of regular use of polyrhythm and poly-meter, even on already complex arrangements, one in 5/8 was exceptional and inspiring.  I found myself tapping fingers and wagging my head with every bop and weave, with every departure and slide into home.

They opened with Check to Cheek by Irving Berlin, which led to some entertaining banter wherein Jon suggested, “who doesn’t like…” and Ed interjected “Cheeks!”, not the likely summation of “Berlin”.  This joke was revisited after every tune, to jolly effect.  After a touching original ballad and a stable of standards including All the Things You Are at sometimes very up tempos, the duo retired for a break.

The comparison between the level of the musicianship and the humility of the surroundings of Jazz performed in a basement music venue was unavoidable.  Yet it was obvious the intimacy available in this setting was itself in keeping with a pianist at the top of their game.  Much in keeping with Glenn Gould’s aversion to large halls, I can only imagine that Mr. Davis was in his preferred and sought-after context.

Giving Ed Howard a profuse handshake on the way out we made our way back up to the street, to wend our way back home, piece de resistance in hand, artisanal ice cream, to complete the evening.

EAB 24 JULY 2019 NYC


Les Agamemnonz and The Camermen Friday 17 August 2018 10PM at Otto’s Shrunken Head, 538 East 14th Street, NYC, NY

Ok, first one.  Here we go:  a memoir of sorts in the guise of reviews of shows, mostly ones I’ve played or as in this case gone to see.

Having recently relocated to East 14th Street in Manhattan back in June, I’m just beginning to get out to shows and catch up with friends.  One of those is Todd Perlmutter, former Blue Man Group Creative Director, Producer and Drummer “flamboyant” (say that in French) aka Captain Rock. We’re neighbors of a feather now as he lives on the Lower East Side.  Todd has been playing with a Surf Rock band called The Cameramen led by Chris Dyas.  They were both behind the genius of the band Orangutang.

Orangutang is one of my favorites, especially the album Dead Sailor Acid Blues.

Unfortunately, due to some kind of music business tragedy the band was  consigned to the nether regions of a bleak purgatory where all unsung genius resides.  Although, I only saw the band and Chris once at the Rat in Boston, I consider myself a big fan. Todd is an incredibly powerful drummer and they both live and breathe music as easy as a bike ride in the park.

She made another amazing pizza (Chorizo, Pineapple, and Jalepeno with Smoked Cheddar) for dinner and afterward I arrived at the venue, Otto’s Shrunken Head, which is just across the street from our apartment. It was a bit dark and rainy but I was thankful for the break from the city heat and humidity.

Otto’s is a small divy tiki bar with all the chintzings – plastic Easter Island Head figurines and pineapple light strings.  True to form, like most all places musicians frequent there was what modern philosophers lovingly call a Suppressive Person afoot, and Otto’s had its own resident SP, in this case the door guy.  He asked for ID which I produced and he scanned.  While handing him my ID I asked if there was a door charge.  I didn’t ask you for a door charge, I asked for your ID he barked back.  Yes, right I replied, I was just wondering if there was a door charge.  There’s never a door charge he barked again.  Good to know I said and stepped past him like you might move when you are deftly avoiding dog shit on the sidewalk.

It was just after 10PM and I found Todd and Chris between the bar and the back room where the stage was.  Todd said he was on the verge of a huge immersive musical production in New Orleans, and that his father was in hospice in Florida and that he was flying there the next day, and getting married upstate in a week.  Always a full life. After exchanging other pleasantries, and being re-introduced to Chris (and me telling him I’m a big fan), meeting a few other friends, and a drink – Jameson of course, we passed through to the back room to catch the headliner French Surf Rock band Les Agamemnonz.

Usually the headliner would go on last but sometimes as in this case going on late is less attractive.  So, in truth, this can really only be about their set, because I just stayed for the beginning of The Camermen’s set, having some duties at home at midnight.

Les Agamemnonz was exactly what you might expect in a French Surf Rock band: looked like two sets of brothers, one set with long stringy hair and the other with short existential hair.  For more info on the name and Agamemnon, check out the wiki page – hope these guys don’t get killed on their return home…

And, oh, they all wear bold colored tunics and play barefoot!

The music was great, intelligent, well crafted, sophisticated, and listenable – and most notably – an instrumental art-form with no vocals. Refreshing on that point alone.  The quartet provided driving 8th note rhythms and triadic harmonies – lots of minor keys – with true rhythm guitar, and lead guitar functions.  The melodies were great and the constant form changes kept it engaging. After a satisfyingly modest hour set they bid adieu.

The Camermen, a trio with just bass and guitar took some time to come on but I was able to stay for a few songs. Todd woke the room up with a single test of the snare drum like being struck by lightning. Probably the most memorable note of the evening.  It always amazes me how a great musician can imbue a single sound with their entire being.  It was unmistakable.

The music was everything you might expect if Chris Dyas wrote Surf Rock: expertly crafted, beautiful sounds, ticking all the boxes of what might make traditional Surf Rock, but with unusual and unique twists and turns to make it completely original. Effortless. The bass amply filled the functions of bass and rhythm guitar giving a more stripped down sound than the quartet.

Our friend the door guy made himself known again after a couple songs and yelled at the band to turn down, and then angrily closed the doors to the back room.  In truth, they weren’t any louder than the first band, but good music can irritate the diseased soul.

As the witching hour approached I made an unobtrusive exit to wend my way back home through the homeless and wealthy.

As a somber coda, Todd’s father, the Original Captain, passed while Todd was in flight to Florida. RIP